Duo wears their hearts on their record sleeve
Listen to The Weepies’ Be My Thrill in full on the Paste station.
It’s hard to believe that The Weepies haven’t yet appeared on Yo Gabba Gabba! The Los Angeles husband-and-wife duo of Deb Talan and Steve Tannen have always made kid-friendly music—the kind of record you buy because you enjoy it, but before you know it, the kids are singing along in the backseat—but their latest record is the first they’ve written as parents, and it shows.
Talan and Tannen haven’t always been this chipper; they wrote much of their last record when they desperately wanted to have a baby, and the songs were shaded by loneliness and longing. It was called Hideaway, named after a song about how even the stars sometimes can’t bear to emerge. They finally became parents between the time they made Hideaway and released it, so even though their world had changed, they spent the last few years performing songs they’d written a lifetime ago. The new mom and dad were probably happier than their music sounded—and all that contained joy had to explode at some point—which brings us to Be My Thrill.
First track “Please Speak Well Of Me” is just what you’d expect from a band called The Weepies—a simple waltz with wistful lyrics clearly enunciated by Talan’s sugary voice—and would have fit nicely on their breakout record Say I Am You. Next, though, comes the first of three songs about sunshine. The sing-songy “When You Go Away” kicks off a portion of the record that should come preloaded on minivan stereo systems: “When you go away / It’s like you hide the sun / ... When you go away / It’s an unfinished song,” Talan sings. “I Was Made For Sunny Days” is exuberant, a modern-day “You Are My Sunshine” (“I was made for sunny days / I made do with gray, but I didn’t stay / I was made for sunny days / And I was made for you”). And between the handclaps and lyrics like “We hold hands while we work and play / And hope tomorrow is a sunny day,” the ridiculously catchy “Hope Tomorrow” could be the theme song to a PBS Kids show.
“Hummingbird” is a lullaby, with hushed vocals and tender words; despite its name, so is “Not a Lullaby,” with all the key rock-a-bye-baby qualities—repetitive, reassuring, self-referential lyrics about holding someone when the rain falls. Even on the ostensibly grown-up songs, The Weepies’ lyrics seem to have originated from late nights spent soothing their progeny, especially the repetition throughout the otherwise mellow “Red, Red Rose” (“You don’t know why you do the things you do, do, do / You’re holding it together with some glue, glue, glue”).
The Weepies aren’t for everyone. Be My Thrill is sweet—really sweet—and there’s very little sour to balance it out. But Talan and Tannen are disarmingly unapologetic: They’re in love with each other, they have an adorable little boy, the weather’s amazing in California, life is beautiful and they write mushy-gushy pop songs about it.
Even in that context, the album delivers some surprises. On the bluesy rocker “How Do You Get High?” Tannen takes the lead, asking the title question at least 11 times, while Talan sings sultry harmonies over electric guitars in the background. It’s a great song, and Be My Thrill’s only bit of muscle, but it’s disorienting in context. “Add My Effort” is just a little Auto-tune and a sax solo away from airplay on Delilah, in the best way possible—it’s unabashed, moody soft-pop. Though the lyrics are a little awkward (“I’m gonna add my effort to you”—huh?), Talan’s background vocals have never sounded better, almost taking the place of a guitar part. And “They’re In Love, Where Am I?” sounds like a Burt Bacharach cover; the language is intentionally dated (Talan chirps about Lover’s Lane and kissing in the rain, while the vibraphone rings and dings along) and it’s charming—just slightly out of character.
The Weepies close their record in the minor keys. “Empty Your Hands” is about letting go of the world’s problems and releasing them like a bunch of red balloons into a blue sky—tooth-achingly sweet, but a picture we could probably all stand to imagine. It’s a perfect way for the duo to sign off; it somehow justifies their cheeriness, as if they’re saying, “This is why we make music.” The song’s inspiration? “Our baby learned to run today / in circles on the grass / His joyful face it radiates / These moments go so fast,” Talan sings. Parenthood can really change your perspective. Your music, too.